The Future of Tech is WTF?
In a piece for Wired originally headlined “Meet the Brilliant Young Hackers Who’ll Soon Shape the World,” writer Tony Tulathimutte introduces us to the future of tech, a hacking collective called Sthacks at Northeastern University led by tech wunderkind David. David is joined by:
“Sam, a chatty former competitive League of Legends player; he argues constantly with Peter, a pugnacious arch capitalist who pulls in five figures a year with a web design business. Jacob is a deadpan wiseacre; the soft-spoken Taha is considering pursuing three minors and two majors (he dropped a third, mechanical engineering, because he figures he can pick it up on his own). David’s roommate, Alec, knows three languages, plays three instruments, and has a penchant for tie-dye and sweatpants. And Matt, a baby-faced Ping-Pong enthusiast with an 11-o’clock shadow, is the only one whose pants fit properly.”
Something feels off, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Tulathimutte brings up the wide backgrounds from which our heroes come:
“Like Midnight’s Children or the X-Men, they have talents that seem to have emerged spontaneously and in isolation, from everywhere and for no reason, united here through the sheer chance of dorm assignments and the lingua franca of tech. One mentions he attended the best-funded school in the US, another the worst-funded school in New Jersey. There are Hillary voters and more than zero Trump voters.” These people couldn’t be more different from each other!
Oh, wait. “They’re all guys,” Tulathimutte writes.
Ohhhhhhh. They’re also mostly white, and there’s not a Black face or Hispanic face in the group. (White men in tech? Now there’s a story that has definitely not been written by a major publication before!)
But, there’s a super simple reason for boys club: it’s “perhaps due to the gender imbalance in STEM fields, but at least partly because the dorm floors here are gender-segregated.” The dorm floor is for dudes only so basically there are no women, anywhere!
Hang on. It does turn out that women exist in this universe, but they are not the tech geniuses who are going to change the world. It turns out that “some [of the guys] have girlfriends.” High fives all around.
Things get a little confusing as this story progresses, because while I was previously led to believe there are no women who might be part of the future in tech, Tulathimutte does visit a meeting of college club NU Hacks, and finds that the group has two whole women. (One woman, the club president named Niousha, upon entering the room, says “Whoa, the population of women just went up in here by a hundred percent.”) It’s funny—the idea of one woman leading a mostly male tech club is way less interesting than a story about men sitting in a room looking at computers—especially since there haven’t been countless articles (google “tech wunderkind”), TV shows, and movies on exactly this topic. I’m so glad Wired chose this particular angle.
The other female member of NU Hacks, Danielle, says she feels guilty whenever she doesn’t show up to the club, because “she’s big on inclusion and worried that potential new members would see a room of dudes and assume they didn’t care about including women.” It’s a shame that no one warned her this story was going to be the online version of a room that doesn’t care about including women.
Throughout the piece, Tulathimutte tries to shirk responsibility for claiming the future is male, for example calling the NU Hacks a “room is dominated by reedy white guys, which is a more or less accurate reflection of what’s happening in computer science at most colleges right now.”
Just as a reference point:
- In 2015, 18 percent of Computer and Information Sciences bachelor’s degrees went to women, according to NCWIT.
- 28 percent of all students holding a BS in computer science are women, according to the Level Playing Field Institute.
- In 2011, 41 percent of the Harvard sophomores who’d chosen Computer Science as a major were women, according to the Level Playing Field Institute.
There’s no denying that the picture looks grim for women in tech majors, but it doesn’t look the way Tulathimutte painted it—and stories like these are self-fulfilling prophecies that help create the tech world that’s mostly male and white.
It’s not that this article isn’t a factual look at a group of young men who hang out and hack, but to paint this as the future of tech while ignoring the reality of gender and race in the tech world is ludicrous.
Then again, to put any fears we may have about imbalance here to bed, Tulathimutte says that “Where it seems like race, sexuality, gender, and class dominate collegiate discussions right now, the young men of Sthacks simply identify as hackers.”
Ahhhhhh. To live in a world where you get to choose how you’re identified, to say “I am above these conversations,” and to have a major publication shine a spotlight on you and call you the future. Live it up, boys.